Above – Spent skins from the Zin Rosé pressing
September 11, 2018
CALISTOGA — Lots happening already as this harvest gains momentum. On Friday we pressed out the Zin Rosé. Juice tastes fantastic but the yield was a bit low. Only 145 gallons per ton. I was hoping for more like 160 gallons. That happens most of the time. It’s rare that we reach our wine volume forecasts. Just a bit too much optimism combined with bit too many variables. Anyway, by the time we finished pressing and cleaning up it was 8pm Friday night.
Saturday was anchored by the Calistoga Wine Growers annual tasting in Pioneer Park. Setup at 3:30, cleanup by around 7:30. An event so close to our house (three blocks) that I just can’t say no. Any wine event that you can walk home from is usually a good one. It turned out to be a predictably warm Calistoga September day, meaning that even the big Cabernets see some ice bucket time, just to keep them in the cellar temperature realm. And although it’s really never what I feel like doing on a harvest weekend, it always ends up being a good gathering—nice people, pretty park, working alongside so many of our Calistoga vintner friends. By the end of three hours of me telling our story, describing our wines, and meeting scores of new people, I’m spent. I think I went home and had a bowl of leftover chili for dinner and went to bed.
Sunday we racked the Zin rosé juice clean from the settling tank and put it into two stainless steel barrels and one keg. The barrels got the QA23 yeast and the keg got Perlage. We are liking the QA23 for its full tropical Hawaiian punch elements. And the Perlage brings a creamier mouthfeel along with the added bonus that it’s a durable fermenter, so that just in case the other ferment get’s sluggish at the end, the addition of the Perlage portion could save the day. On a side note, we do plan to pick the rest of the King Zin on Thursday for the red Zin. Super fun to make two totally different wines from a single vineyard.
Monday morning started early at the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay vineyards in Oak Knoll. Then on to the King Zin, Sonoma old vine Zin, and Sonoma Syrah for a rosé cuvée. The Sonoma vineyards are ripening especially slowly this year with unseasonably cool weather for the past month that’s forecast to stay cool through the next couple weeks. Both vineyards are roughly two weeks away from picking time. That’s when we got a message from Suzanne Pavitt of Phifer Pavitt Winery that they had, on somewhat of a whim the previous night at an event, tasted through a ten-year vertical of every Napa Cabernet I had ever made for them. From 2005 through 2015. The message was that they had left enough in each bottle for us to taste through the entire decade. A rare opportunity indeed.
So we grabbed a quick lunch at Gotts where we ran into Jerry Seps, founder, owner, winemaker, and vineyard manager for Storybook Mountain. It turns out that after all these years Jerry was still my best winery boss. Mainly because there is no pretense with Jerry. Just the hard work of trying to run a 40-acre family winery with great wines and decent enough cash flow to keep the whole thing going for another harvest. He was the winemaker and I was the associate winemaker at Storybook from 2000 to 2004. We got to mess around with wild yeast fermentations together. During harvest I did all the cellar and wine work and Jerry managed everything to do with the vineyards. It was a beautiful, warm and crystal clear day in the valley. Jon and I had called in our orders ahead so that our Crispy Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich, California Burger, garlic fries, and sweet potato fries would be ready to eat as soon as we arrived. Which is what happened. We asked Jerry what he was up to, and he said, “Waiting for my grapes to get ripe.” True enough. Might as well have a burger while you’re waiting.
It was a first for me, to taste through this ten-year vertical of wines that I had made, and from a single vineyard. There they were. Ten years of weather and scheduling and pumpovers and topping and tasting and blending, contract negotiations, sleepless nights, missing bungs, barrel trials, and winemaker dinners, all lined up in vintage order across a marble counter top. Mostly what I noticed is how amazingly solid Arthur Spencer’s vineyard is. Temple vineyard, over in Pope Valley. So good. Year after year. And it also had me thinking that over the ten vintages, we had made these wines at 5 different winemaking facilities. 2005 was at the old Robert Pecota Winery, then KJ bought them so for 2006 we moved production to Caldwell, deep in their massive caves down in Coombsville. 2007 was at Laird in Oak Knoll. 2008 through 2010, we made the wines at Raymond and right about the time that Boisset bought them we finally opened the Phifer Pavitt winery for our first year of full winemaking at our own facility in Calistoga. It may sound obvious, but what seems to make the biggest difference is not equipment or technology or knowhow. It’s the weather of the vintage. Particularly the weather during the last three months before harvest. That’s what put’s the finishing touches on the character of a vintage.